Heartfelt Living: Paying Attention To You
Lucie K. Lewis, Ed.D- Senior Staff Writer
We are women. We multi-task with great aplomb. We do for our families. We work. We run behind our kids to give them a good foundation for wonderful lives. We make the holidays magic. We cook, clean, shop, manage the budget and balance the world.
But, there is something missing from that list.
Five years ago, Sue Lawson was a busy, managing-the-world, do-it-all woman who was just not feeling well. She was feeling exhausted, but she had things to do and the holidays were coming. Sue described the exhaustion as becoming paralyzing, and still, she pushed on and did not think about it. She was being treated by her primary care physician for bronchitis, but no single symptom sent up signs for concern or alarm for either her or her doctor. Walking the dog one evening, she began experiencing chest pain, but decided to wait and see what happened. She waited and soon it was Easter. However, since the symptoms had gradually begun to increase, she finally discussed them with her doctor who immediately ordered a stress test.
She arrived for the stress test and before the test could begin, the doctor looked at the heart monitor, and an interesting conversation ensued.
“Are you feeling anxious?”
“No,” she replied.
In a second attempt to assess what he was sure the monitors were showing, he asked,
“Is this how you feel all the time?”
Without waiting for the answer, the doctor instructed her to lie down and to put something under her tongue. It ended up being a nitroglycerin pill.
He had only one final question.
“Who did you come with?”
Of course, she had driven herself. After all, it was just a test. He immediately wheeled her into the emergency room.
Sue said that she does not remember being in distress while at the stress test. Even though she had not recognized her distress, she was indeed in distress. She was admitted to the hospital right away.
The next day she was given an angiogram. During the procedure, she heard her doctor being paged on the intercom.
There was just one more question to be answered.
“Susan, how do you feel about surgery tomorrow?”
She had a triple by-pass the very next day.
Despite her knowledge that her family had a history of heart disease, Sue had pushed past not feeling well, and unintentionally ignored the signs that her body was sending her about what was happening to it. Or was it unintentional because this is not the end of the story.
After Sue’s surgery was behind her, she learned that she had already had a previous heart attack. Thinking back, Sue remembered the night that it happened.
It was one evening while her husband was traveling. She awoke with an awful pain in her chest. She slowly got out of bed, chewed two adult aspirin and considered what to do. Yes, she thought about calling an ambulance or just calling someone for help. She thought about the lights and noise disrupting the neighborhood in the middle of the night. The pain began to lessen. Opting for another wait and see moment, Sue went back to sleep, got up in the morning and started her day.
This story highlights an important point about how we as women often care for ourselves. Dr. James Kirchhoffer of Baystate Medical Practices Northampton Cardiology shared that if you were to ask women what they would do if someone looked like they were having a heart attack, 100 percent would tell you they would give them aspirin and call an ambulance while only 50 percent would give the same answer if it happening to them.
How many of us are like Sue, falling into Dr. Kirchhoffer’s other 50 percent? How often do we wait and see. We give ourselves permission to be sick when the work is done, but it never is.
Sue recognizes how lucky she was to survive. After her surgery, she participated in cardio-rehabilitation. In addition to the physical rehabilitation work that is done, the program offered substantial education that included proper nutrition and an explanation on how the heart works. Committed to sharing what she has learned, as a Go Red Lady, Sue now does public speaking to raise awareness and understanding of the seriousness of living a heart healthy life and of knowing and responding wisely to the symptoms of heart attacks.
Mary Ann Burns of the American Heart Association shared that 450,000 women each year die as a result of cardiovascular disease. According to the facts listed on the 2013 Go Red Fact Sheet, this represents about one woman every minute. Cardiovascular disease is listed as the number one killer of women, ahead of “the next five causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.” Also reported in the factsheet is that “64 percent of women who dies suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.” A more startling statistic according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute is that “80 percent of women ages 40 to 60 have one or more risk factor for heart disease.” The NHLBI also reports that, “Having one or more risk factors dramatically increases a woman’s chance of developing heart disease because risk factors tend to worsen each other’s effects.” In their publication The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women, they add that,
Having just one risk factor can double a woman’s chance of developing heart disease. But having more than one risk factor is especially serious, because risk factors tend to “gang up” and worsen each other’s effects. Having two risk factors increases the chance of developing heart disease fourfold. Having three or more risk factors increases the chance more than tenfold.
For more information visit www.heart.org or begin a personal assessment to start your journey to heart health from http://mylifecheck.heart.org. Also, Friday February 7 is National Wear Red Day®. Wear red to show your support of living a heart healthy life. Take advantage of that day to become more informed and aware of how to protect your heart health. Another valuable local resource for information is the Heart Association Go Red luncheon that will be held on March 7 at the Log Cabin. The Go Red Luncheon offers seminars to educate women about critical issues dealing with heart health, messages from survivors like Sue and a keynote speaker.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease:
Source: Mary Ann Burns
American Heart Association
High Blood Pressure
Type 2 Diabetes
Physically Inactive Life Style
To determine your risk:
1. See your doctor
2. Ask questions
Visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov for more information